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Gene linked to infertility in mice

DURHAM, N.C. -- A cell biologist at Duke University Medical Center has published a new study in mice that offers another possible genetic explanation for infertility in men: a gene called miwi.

The research has not yet been conducted using human tissue, but Haifan Lin, an associate professor of cell biology at Duke and senior author of the study, suspects that the human counterpart of miwi, called hiwi, is probably also associated with infertility in men. The study could eventually lead to genetic testing for the human form of the miwi gene, Lin said.

Piwi and miwi stem from the piwi family of genes known to be associated with the division of reproductive stem cells, which are the immature cells that can proliferate and mature to become adult sperm cells.

"This study presents the first definitive evidence that the piwi gene family has an essential function in the mammalian male reproductive system," said Lin, who is senior author of the paper in the June 7, 2002, issue of Developmental Cell.

In a related paper that appears in the June 6, 2002 issue of Oncogene, Lin describes the connection between the human homologue of piwi, called hiwi, and testicular cancer. (Please visit http://www.dukemednews.org for a news release featuring the Oncogene paper.)

There are a number of genes linked to male infertility, but only two, which includes miwi and crem, have been directly linked to sperm production as master regulators, Lin said.

When the miwi gene is defective or missing, it can lead to complete sterility in mice, he said.

"We show that this gene, miwi, instructs the making of a protein that binds to messenger RNAs to control their life span," Lin said. Messenger RNAs, which constitute the genetic instructions for proteins, are copied from DNA to be used to direct the cell's protein-making machinery.

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Contact: Amy Reyes
a.reyes@duke.edu
919-668-7837
Duke University Medical Center
6-Jun-2002


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